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Promoting infant nutrition through breastfeeding

Health, Hunger, News/feature, Africa, Ireland, Global, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Vietnam, 2014
An information and training booklet on breastfeeding is used at a breastfeeding workshop in Sierra Leone. Photo: Irish Aid/Paul Sheehan

A booklet is used in a breastfeeding workshop in Sierra Leone to help mothers understand the benefits of breastfeeding.

Ireland is recognised as a champion in the global fight against malnutrition. Irish Aid supports a wide range of nutrition interventions and programmes with a particular focus on preventing stunting in early childhood by targeting the 1,000 day window of opportunity, from pregnancy to the age of two.

Breastfeeding is recognised as the best way for infants to get all the nutrition they need for healthy growth while building their defences against illness.  In unhygienic environments, where clean water may not be available or affordable, breastfeeding protects young infants from infection and disease.  Irish Aid is working with partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding for infants up to six months of age, continuous breastfeeding up to two years and to improve infant and young child feeding practices.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend:

  • early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth,
  • exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and
  • the introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

However, many infants and children do not receive optimal feeding. Only about 38% of infants aged 0 to 6 months worldwide are exclusively breastfed. WHO estimate that approximately 800,000 children's lives could be saved every year if all children were optimally breastfed.

Irish Aid works through partners to support breastfeeding and supplementary nutrition for children in Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Here are some ways we are promoting breastfeeding:

  • In South East Asia, we support advocacy for longer, paid maternity leave and restrictions to marketing of breastfeeding substitutes;
  • We provide health sector budget support in Mozambique, contributing to provision of ARVs to over 80% of pregnant and lactating women who are HIV positive, which enables safe breastfeeding and limits transmission of HIV from mother to child;
  • We support Ethiopia’s Health Extension Worker programme where over 30,000 community health workers promote breast feeding;

In Southern Africa and South East Asia, our partners promote breastfeeding practices as part of their Infant and Young Child Nutrition programmes.

Our focus on Nutrition

Find out more about what Irish Aid does to improve nutrition